17th Jan, 2019

Newly discovered documents shed light on Shakespeare's political views

Ian Hughes 18th Sep, 2018 Updated: 20th Sep, 2018

NEWLY discovered 16th century documents reveal more about how Shakespeare’s political views were formed, says an academic.

Twenty-one documents relating to the playwright’s father John were found in the National Archives by Glyn Parry, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Roehampton.

The manuscripts reveal John Shakespeare was accused of illegal money lending and wool dealing, with government informers pursuing him for a number of years. These financial and legal troubles were to last until 1583, when William was 19-years-old.

The documents include a number of writs against the Bard’s father and record his debts to the Crown, including one for £132, the equivalent of £20,000 today.

His property was at risk of seizure by the Crown and the documents help explain the father’s retreat from Stratford civic life in 1577.

Professor Parry said: “Very little is known of William Shakespeare’s early life and the influences on his writing.

“These documents now confirm that legal action taken against his father by the Crown influenced his attitude to power politics.

“John Shakespeare’s victimisation occupied the years William studied at Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School. There he read the Latin literature of the late Roman Republic and Early Empire, which criticised those who bent the law to enrich themselves under monarchs.

“His father’s experiences and his reading therefore combined to shape the playwright’s later sceptical attitude towards power politics, highlighted in recent academic studies of his writings, and in Macbeth, King Lear and Cymbeline.”

Paul Edmondson, head of research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, was excited by the discovery.

He said: “Everyone at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is thrilled to hear about these new discoveries – a significant number of missing pieces in the Stratford-upon-Avon jigsaw that will help us to understand even more about Shakespeare’s family background, and what helped to form his unique outlook.”

John Shakespeare’s story is told at Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall in Church Street.

It was a place he was known to have made minor appearances in court, and where he was later to serve as bailiff (mayor) of Stratford, having also held positions including ale-taster, constable and alderman.

The discovery of the documents adds significantly to the knowledge of John Shakespeare and his affairs, and the pressures the family would have experienced while William was growing up.

Lindsey Armstrong, general manager of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall, said: “With its place at the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon society, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall is where the lives of John and William Shakespeare intertwined, so it is to thrilling to discover more detail about their enthralling story.

“Through his father’s position as bailiff, it was here that William was to get his first taste of professional theatre, but we can now also consider what influence his father’s life might have had on William as a writer.”

Visit www.shakespearesschoolroom.org for further information on Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall.

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